We cannot expect the world to be righteous if we are not. We cannot expect the world to know righteousness unless we show righteousness to the world.


When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

-- Matthew 5:1-12



I tried a new restaurant the other night. It was named Karma. Odd—there were no menus. I asked the waitress what the deal was and she said, “You just get what you deserve.”

Last night, before bed, we watched an episode, on-demand, of The West Wing, a favorite old television show. In this episode, the President and First Lady were just arriving home from church, and they are arguing over the sermon. The First Lady thought the sermon very good, but the President accuses the preacher of being a hack who has missed the meaning of the Scripture and the opportunity to enlighten the congregation. The argument daunted me, just a little, as I was preparing, still, to talk with you this morning about the Sermon on the Mount. It is, simply, the greatest sermon ever given; they are the most important words ever spoken. This is the lesson above all lessons, the written Word that is the Word of God. Jesus, having erupted across

time and space and into the earth, into the lives of men and women, into the little town of Bethlehem and then to Nazareth and, now, into Capernaum, where He—Jesus, the Incarnate God, also fully human—Jesus has drawn close twelve who will be His closest friends and followers. These words, this sermon, is saved for us in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters five through seven. It is here—in this sermon—that Jesus tells His disciples, those that would follow Him then and we, who would follow Him now, of the realm, the way, the Kingdom to come. I am the fulfillment of all the prophecies, and I interpret the law, He tells them. You are the salt of the earth. You have heard it said one way, but I say different: don’t kill, don’t even be angry. No more of this “eye for an eye” business, but love your enemies. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, and how, in the way that we still share in His prayer; He said that we can’t serve two masters and, especially, not God and money, but one or the other. He told us not to worry so much: stop worrying—consider the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, the sparrow, God’s great love for you. Don’t worry; it does no good. Don’t judge others—it’s not for you to do. Instead, the Golden Rule--treat others the way you wish to be treated. The wise man builds on the rock of Jesus’ words, while the foolish man ignores.

But it all begins—the precious and powerful sermon—it all begins with words about righteousness. And that’s where we are today. Blessed are the ones who seek righteousness--the poor in spirit seek righteousness, and, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers--all of these are seekers of righteousness. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are persecuted for their pursuit of righteousness, those who are hated and reviled and have all measures of evil heaped upon them because they seek to be righteous in Jesus’ name. Blessed in the pursuit of what is right and true and good for all.

“Blessed.” That’s the word that gets us into the weeds, the word that we struggle to understand. In that moment, most of those whom Jesus identified--people who were being persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and those who were reviled and rejected and cursed, for exampleprobably were not feeling all-that-blessed. But in the days to come—in the Kingdom of God that Jesus declared to be near—blessed they would be. Blessed doesn’t mean “happy,” at least not in this context, nor “well off,” as we hear it used, sometimes, these days. I don’t think that Jesus was using the word to mean “joyful,” either. Joy might flow from His words; happiness might result from His mission, and the poor might prosper as the result of His ministry. But Jesus was speaking of a changed world, of the coming realm of power and control, of the new Kingdom that was at hand. And, in that new Kingdom, close enough to touch and feel, almost, these of whom Jesus spoke would be blessed—blessed if we read that word, “blessed,” to mean “favored” in the eyes of God—if we say that Jesus was commending these for the faith that they would keep in the eye of the storms of life—and if we read that word, further, to mean, “included—welcomed into the presence of God. If we read the lesson in that way—if the Sermon on the Mount begins that way—then we have a chance of understanding what Jesus is all about, the possibility of comprehending why God has come to earth, what might be and become, if only we will follow. We may come close to understanding the importance of what we have read here today. Jesus was announcing the revolution, and naming it; He was here to turn the world upside-down.

From now on:

Those who are the poor in spirit will be favored, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Those who mourn will be favored, for they will be comforted.

Those who are meek will be favored, for they will inherit the earth.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be favored, for they will be


From now on, those who are merciful will be favored, for they will receive mercy.

Those who are pure in heart will be favored, for they will see God.

The peacemakers—oh, those who make peace are righteous and they will be favored, for they will be called children of God.

And those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake—they will be favored, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And so, you—if you will only follow me and face up to it when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account—you will be favored for your righteousness. So, rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, where you will be favored, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus was here to turn the world upside down. The righteous—His followers--would be favored. Would we join Him in turning the world upside-down once again?

Let’s pray together and then talk some more.

God, let us seek righteousness—for ourselves and for others and for this world. In this moment make us to realize that we need to talk less and to listen more. All of us, because You speak to us every day, through Your Word, through our prayers, through nature, through the loved ones You have sent into our lives. Help us to listen for Your voice in all things; show us the way to be quiet so that we might hear. Guide us as we study Your Word and as we seek Your Will for our lives, and show us the path of life—the path of righteousness. Remind us, always, no matter what we see or hear, no matter what we say or do, no matter what comes into focus and what remains, yet, a blur, that the glory of this time and these words is Yours, alone. Amen.

They hadn’t been together for long—Jesus and the twelve strangers He had called to follow Him—but already they were faced with a growing crowd and, so, it was time for Jesus to tell them what was coming. The time had come for Jesus to make it clear why He, the incarnation of God, had come to this moment. He had already proclaimed His mission statement back in His home synagogue, in Nazareth—the one that nearly got Him killed:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Good news to the poor; release to the captives. Recovery of sight for those do not see, and freedom from oppression. Jubilee—the year of the Lord’s favor, forgiveness of debts and the restoration of property that had been taken for the repayment of debt. Manumission from slavery. Jesus hungered and thirsted for righteousness. For righteousness. And so would anyone who claimed to be His disciple. This was the beginning, and it was time to reveal Who He was, time to reveal what was coming. To tell the world what the world would become, and who would be made whole in the process of its becoming. The world would be turned upside-down, as never before.

God wants to break in again, this time, through us. Will we be Jesus’ disciples today? Will we value those who are diminished, favor those who are not the favorites, love, without judgment, the ones who have been judged into insignificance? Will we seek righteousness?

An old friend posted something on Facebook the other day that caught my attention. This guy used to be a Bill Clinton impersonator, but the act died out with the 2000 election, so he switched gears and became a motivational speaker and author, with a sort of a hard-edged conservative twist. Sort of a negative motivational speaker. His message said, “A lifetime of laziness, irresponsibility and poor choices does not constitute bad luck.” A lifetime of laziness, irresponsibility and poor choices does not constitute bad luck. Now, that statement, standing alone, may be self-proving. But it wasnt meant to stand alone; readers were invited to add the next statement for themselves, and it goes something like, “You got yourself into this mess, so why should I help you out now?” The real message is buried inside, though: people get what they deserve, so it’s not my fault. People get what they deserve.

People get what they deserve. I had this friend in law school. Rod believed in rough justice, believed that people get what they deserve, believed that what goes around comes around. Rod always had a simple explanation for everything. Rape was usually the result of a woman’s bad choice about what to wear, or where to be. Unemployment and poverty and chronic illness were caused by inherent laziness, and irresponsibility, and poor choices. People get what they deserve, or at least what they ask for. If catastrophe occurs, they probably had it coming. It had to be true.

Rod was just in his early twenties, and he had lived his whole life on the football field, on the basketball court and on the baseball diamond, places where, in truth, a person usually does get what he or she deserves. Because on the fields of athletic competition there are rules, because there are referees and umpires and scorekeepers and coaches who mandate sportsmanship, because the balls all have the same shape and the playing surface is flat, because everyone plays under the same conditions. This had been Rod’s life and he wasn’t wise enough, yet, to understand that his life was not typical in this world. He could not possibly have fathomed the truth back then--that while we were playing basketball three or four times each week—sometimes skipping class to play one more game—that same week, week after week, 125,000 children died of hunger. Each week a population about the size of Carmel and Westfield, combined, but made up entirely of children, is allowed to starve to death. No, Rod—in his wisdom-unburdened-by-knowledge--lived by the rule that, if someone’s life went well, it was they deserved and if someone’s life went badly, well, that was they deserved, too.

I’ve known lots of people like Rod, people who were all-too-happy to say that bad things happen to those who invite those bad things. I still hear it every day. Most of them believe what they say, too, because they have convinced themselves. Out of fear. Out of fear. You see, they fear the randomness of life, the reality that sometimes bad things happen to good people, that sometimes the good die young, that there is a force for evil in the world and that evil seems, at times, to seek out the righteous for a cruel little game of torture. These folks create a false defense, an approach that says, “It can’t happen to me. It can’t happen to my wife or my daughter or my son. It can’t happen at my house; it can’t exist in my family. It can’t happen because we do the right things. It can’t happen to us because we work hard. Evil can’t reach us because we don’t invite it in.” But it can happen. It does happen.

A high school classmate died this week. Mike was a bully; he was rough and unkind and cruel. We were teammates in football, but that didn’t stop him from calling me names. He was especially cruel to the girls who weren’t popular. I hadn’t seen Mike for over thirty years; I was looking forward to seeing him at our fiftieth reunion, in 2022. You see, the last time I saw Mike, in 1987, he had shown me unexpected kindness and warmth. I had just gone through a time of life in which both of my parents had died, and I told Mike that, if I got sick, as they had, well I just might hurry the process along. “Don’t,” he told me. “If you ever feel like that, you call me.” I didn’t understand where that came from, and I thought that seeing Mike again, thirty-five years later, might reveal him to be a more caring person. But Mike died, alone and bitter, estranged from his family, only one friend committed to check on him. He was an angry man whose luck had abandoned him, and he had turned to alcohol, an old friend, to help him through the pain. He died a lonely man, but not because he deserved it—no one does. And, yet….

Why can’t we hear the words of Jesus and understand? Do we hunger and thirst for righteousness? Where do we seek it, and how? How would we seek to be filled with righteousness?

After law school, Rod drifted away, back home to Michigan, where life found him and dished out the experience he lacked we were classmates at IU. His wife, who had wanted so much for him to be a rich and powerful lawyer, gave up on him when he entered a small-town practice, and divorced him, breaking his heart. He moved to another town to take over operation of a public Legal Services office, only to see the office burn down, including all the files and records, the night before he was to take charge. He remarried--this man who wanted, so much, to be a dad—but had no children of his own. I talk to Rod from time to time—I call him on significant birthdays—and he is softer but sadder. His life is not what he expected when we were in our twenties, yet I know this is not what he deserves.

Still, my friend, the Clinton impersonator, clings to the self-protecting belief that people get what they deserve. I pray for his repentance—his change of mind—to be a gentle one, not like Mike’s or Rod’s, but that he might one day see that the sun shines, as the rain falls, on both the righteous and the unrighteous, that he might, himself, know righteous compassion.

The Apostle Paul wrote these words in his letter to the church that had sprung up in Rome:

As it is written:
‘There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
   there is no one who has understanding,
     there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
   there is no one who shows kindness,
     there is not even one.’

-- Romans 3:10

What a sad commentary; Paul wrote that no one is righteous—not a single one—but not only that; he added that there is no one who seeks God, no one who shows kindness, no one who understands. Paul wrote these words in a context, as part of an argument, in his effort to point the Romans to the path of righteousness. He was pleading with them not to be judgmental, not to rely on the law, not to insist that they could create their own righteousness through their knowledge of Scripture, and not to point fingers at others while they were yet sinners, themselves. Paul was saying that no one is so righteous that he is entitled to judge others. And then Paul pointed the way toward true righteousness; he wrote these words:

the righteousness of God has been disclosed and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (Romans 3:21)

The righteousness of God has been disclosed, attested by the law and the prophets. The righteousness of God has been disclosed, through faith in Jesus Christ. That is what Paul said. God has already told you. He has told you.

The Prophet Isaiah shared God’s message of righteousness this way:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator
shall go before you,
   the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
   you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
   the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
  and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness
   and your gloom be like the noonday. 

The Lord will guide you continually,
   and satisfy your needs in parched places,
   and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
   like a spring of water,
   whose waters never fail.

-- Isaiah 58

The souls of this world are hungry and the hearts are thirsty. The minds of this world feel an insatiable longing for something. The feet of this world are restless. Everybody’s looking for something. Almost everywhere the eyes of the world turn, the grass is greener elsewhere. And the great tragedy for so many in this weary world is that even though the Spirit of God is beckoning those souls and hearts and minds and feet and eyes to turn to Him, they do not hear and, so, turn away again and again to the temporary, and the mind-numbing pleasures of drugs or alcohol or tobacco or adultery or pornography or gambling or sounds or sights or speed or money or new clothes or just some new toy. Or to a false belief in karma—that people get what they deserve.

And everything turns to ashes in the hands of the world. The thrill of lust leaves the sediment of guilt and loneliness. Neither the drugs nor the alcohol, the tobacco, the sex, the music, the lights, the speed, the money, the clothes or the new toy can keep the world from waking up to reality and to the failed relationships that result from this endless searching. It isn’t our appearance that needs a makeover. The money is spent way too quickly. The new toy is so boring in just a few days. Nothing that the world pursues, nothing that the world creates, nothing that the world values—none of it lasts.

We drink from a well of evaporated water. We eat bread filled with holes, which does nothing to satisfy. And the words of C.S. Lewis ring true. He said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

But Jesus has something to say about longing. Jesus has something to say to us this morning about this universal experience of an inconsolable longing. Jesus has something to say about the insatiable hunger of the human heart, and about the relentless thirst of our soul. He says this:Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

If we would seek righteousness, then we must live righteous lives. Let me say that again. If we would seek righteousness, then we must live righteous lives. We cannot demand to be treated well; we cannot ignore or abuse or take advantage of others and then expect that they will be righteous toward us. We cannot expect the world to be righteous if we are not. We cannot expect the world to know righteousness unless we show righteousness to the world. How do we find righteousness? How do we show righteousness? We live it. And how do we live righteous lives? He has told you (from Micah:6)

‘With what shall I come before the Lord,
   and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
   with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
   with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
   the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?

So, let us do what the Lord requires of us, now and evermore, that we may be His true disciples. Amen, and amen.